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When two city employees call in sick, officials in the tiny Marion County town must devise a plan

ST. PAUL — Although the St. Paul Rodeo seemed to largely go off without a hitch, members of the City Council were scrambling behind the scenes after both of the city's two employees unexpectedly went on sick leave days before the rodeo began.

While the city called on its part-time certified engineer to cover critical water and sewer maintenance for the regular public works employee during the rodeo, with councilors serving as backups, the city has now hired a temporary employee to keep the city office open this week and perform some duties of the city recorder, according to Mayor Kim Wallis.

"We had to worry about how to keep the office open and just make sure that we keep city business running," he said, adding the temp can answer calls, take messages and write receipts for residents' water and sewer payments. "It's minimal function but at least we'll have the doors open to the public."

The issue arose June 27, when the council called an emergency meeting and executive session with less than two hours notice to discuss safe operations of the city's water system during the rodeo. The meeting was precipitated by the city's public works employee, Lee Koch, and the city recorder, Lorrie Biggs, calling in the same afternoon with news that each was taking sick leave through at least the duration of the rodeo – effectively depriving the city of its entire staff during one of its busiest times of the year.

Wallis mentioned that Koch had complained of stress, but he did not disclose Biggs' reasons for taking leave. He noted that city offers sick leave and the employees are entitled to it.

During open session of the emergency meeting, the council charged Mike Dolan and Joel Halter to find someone to monitor the water and sewer systems during the rodeo, monitoring water levels, flow, chlorine and other required duties. The city's part-time certified operator, Frank Sinclair, filled that role with backup from Dolan and Wallis.

"We went through the rodeo with almost no problems," Wallis said, with "almost" referring to 20 minutes during the Fourth of July show when he and Dolan had to shut off water to manage some flooding in the park.

While Sinclair has had to devote attention to his other job since the rodeo ended, Wallis assured that the city's water and sewer systems are under control with arrangements in place to cover any emergencies and added that relations between the city and rodeo "seem to be at an all-time high."

He noted that he personally flushed out a water line last week in response to a water-quality complaint.

"Everything's running fine," he said. "I mean, it makes a little more work for the councilors but everybody's bucking up and we're working through it."

The city called a special meeting last week where they approved hiring the temporary employee while Biggs is out. With that temporary employee, Wallis said the city office will be open as normal Tuesday through Friday, but with reduced hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Wallis said Koch was tentatively expected to be back this week and Biggs may return next week.

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